When I interviewed Kerri Kolby-Smits of the former Amelie and Henri pattern company recently, Kerri talked about the process of starting the company in 2013 and how it had quickly grown into a business with, she said, 40-50 patterns in the course of a year.
Wow, I thought.
That’s a lot in a year.
Like, really, a LOT. I said so. I think I even *said* “wow.” Since this was an in-person interview, I’m sure she saw my eyes grow large.
“So, how do you design your patterns?” I asked. “How did you learn drafting? Do you use a program to create the PDFs, like Illustrator? Something else?”
She quickly said she was self-taught (a former pastel artist who got a scholarship to go to college for art, but she didn’t attend), and that she hand-drew the patterns and sent them to someone to be professionally drafted and graded.
I don’t think anyone who knows of Amelie and Henri patterns would disagree that Kerri’s designs are beautiful. Brilliant, even. The first design, a coat, reportedly sold thousands of patterns during a pre-sale…..in other words, before anyone had ever tried to sew one of her patterns.
Not too much later, a vocal group of people rose up in revolt, claiming that the patterns themselves didn’t live up to their expectations.
There was lots of drama, tears, cries of foul-play, and frankly, too much muck to rake up here. This is not that kind of blog, so I’m not going to re-hash it. However, I did talk about Kerri’s exodus from sewing patterns in one section of my article about 4 signs that it’s time to quit your creative business.
But the whole discussion got me thinking.
If someone has a knack for design but doesn’t really know how to draft or grade patterns well – as people have claimed in this situation – should she or he be a “pattern designer?” Does anyone care?
And if the person selling the patterns didn’t actually draft them….well, who drafted that pattern? And how knowledgeable should the designer – the one whose name is on the final product – be once the pattern is on the market?
Some indie designers who sell sewing patterns don’t always do their own drafting, and many don’t do their own grading (which means making patterns into different sizes) or line drawings. Most do their own instruction-writing and step-out photography, however.
And in this increasingly crowded work-from-home profession, more designers who formerly “did it all” are sending at least part of the work out to others to keep up with constant demand for new products, expanded sizing, and more technical PDF pattern booklets.
Jodi Jean Baird, of Jocole, has a degree in fashion design and has assisted pattern designers for years by drafting, grading, and digitizing patterns for her clients.
I used her grading services on my first two patterns, about 2 1/2 years ago, though I drafted, graded, and digitized my third sewing pattern myself.
Jodi is currently trying to release some of her own patterns again, so is accepting fewer clients than she has in the past. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t asking.
“I get a lot of requests,” she said.
She prefers to work with established designers, rather than new ones. And she also prefers to build the pattern from start to finish, rather than have the designers create a draft and send it to her for only grading.
“When people send patterns, I often have to fix patterns,” she said.
For example, when I worked with her, I sent my pattern in an Adobe Illustrator file, but she works in Inkscape. The size percentage between the two programs is different, so we had to spend time re-doing work because what I received back was smaller than what I had drafted.
(It was….quite an experience.)
Because Jodi Jean has an extensive library of pattern blocks she’s already drafted, it’s simply just faster for her to do it all – with tested blocks she knows will make her clients and their customers happy.
“I have them send a sketch, an inspiration photo,” she said. “They might write on it that they like this but not that, and ask for changes to the inspiration piece.”
The service isn’t inexpensive, though. Jodi Jean said she charges a premium to have someone else put their logo on her drafted pattern and to be able to sell it as their own. Currently, her rate for that is $300, on top of what could be $500 (more or less) for the drafting and grading services.
A new designer just coming out of the gate – unless she or he has a drool-worthy, one-of-a-kind design – might have trouble recouping those costs in a reasonable length of time…or in some cases, at all.
But for an established designer, Jodi Jean said, “They’ll make money. It’s a good symbiotic relationship.”
“I have not done custom drafting, nor would I want to,” Melissa said. “I learned very quickly to be picky about my clients, because an item that isn’t drafted correctly to begin with won’t grade well – in fact, grading will just magnify the issues.
“But there are people out there who can draft well and like to draft and create a design, but don’t like all the other technical work involved in getting that one size design ready for consumers in multiple sizes, so that’s where I think services like mine come in.”
Another designer who grades and digitizes patterns, Kymy Johnson of EYMM, (Everything Your Mama Made & More) requires that patterns be drafted and sewn (and tested) before she will accept a grading and digitizing job from a prospective client.
Like Melissa, Kymy says she enjoys “helping out designers who have the understanding and tools but they don’t have the technical skills (or time) to do the grading.”
She has had more requests for her services recently, even as more designers have access to the Adobe Creative Cloud (which now costs $50 a month, rather than buying it outright for more than $2,000). She often refers people to Lauren Dahl’s Pattern Workshop class, “Creating PDF Patterns From Sketch to Sale,” to learn a bit on their own.
Lately she’s noticed that some new designers “want to push their first patterns out” and established designers “are under pressure to get a new pattern out in a certain time frame.”
No matter the designer’s time frame, accuracy of that first draft is important to Kymy.
“The fit issue is a big deal to me.. making sure they fit appropriately.” she said. Kymy said she spends a lot of time mentoring women who want to design patterns because “they don’t realize what all is involved. One of the biggest things I find with a lot of people new to this is that if they don’t know how to do traditional grading with a paper and pen, then they don’t realize what affects the fit.”
Jodi, Melissa and Kymy all agreed that designing and drafting are two different skills, and there’s no reason to worry about patterns that one person designs and another drafts.
“I mean, I guess if you can afford it, then do what you love,” Melissa said about paying for drafting and grading rather than doing it all by yourself. “All designers pay for their lines in time or money, so it depends on which resource you have at your disposal.”
I don’t know who drafted the Amelie and Henri patterns for Kerri Kolby-Smits – it was not one of the three pattern drafters/graders I spoke with for this article. And since I don’t own one of those patterns, I can’t say whether they were “good” in my opinion or not. But those I spoke with – some who have intimate knowledge about the situation -said there were certainly issues with the patterns.
I will say that I’d definitely be wary of a brand new pattern designer who pops new patterns out like a Pez dispenser before any of her or his patterns have been vetted and independently reviewed. No matter whether one person or a team of people designed, drafted, graded, and digitized the pattern (plus wrote the instructions), patterns take a lot of time from concept to completion and testing.
It’s important that whoever drafted that pattern has the skills equal to the design concept.
Do you care if the person who’s selling her design wasn’t the one who drafted the pattern? Or does it just matter that the pattern is easy to follow – no matter who actually drafted it behind the scenes?
Deanna McCool writes for sewmccool.com. You might like to read How competition is changing the PDF pattern design business. To make sure you don’t miss a post, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! 🙂